BANG RAJAN (Unrated, 120 minutes)
Amid all the David-vs.-Goliath nationalism of "Bang Rajan," a fact-based epic inspired by the legendary resistance of a single 18th-century Siamese village against half the invading Burmese army, what registers most strongly is not the lesson of history but the influence of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking. In this exceedingly bloody tale, taking place over the course of several months between 1765 and 1766, it's clear that not nearly as much attention was paid to such things as -- oh, I don't know -- character development as it was to getting special effects like decapitation, impalement and dismemberment juuust right. As directed and co-written by filmmaker Tanit Jitnukul, who has a fondness for cinematic plumes of blood gushing from freshly opened jugulars and the butcher-shop sound of metal piercing human flesh, the string of battle scenes -- in which the heroic, loinclothed villagers of Bang Rajan repulse, again and again, the vastly larger and better equipped Burmese troops -- makes the "Lord of the Rings' " Battle for Helm's Deep look like a "Pokemon" face-off. Sure, there's some human drama: a couple of perfunctory loves stories here; a subplot involving dereliction of duty there. But the film's red meat is in the heroic clash of outnumbered and under-armed patriots standing up to marauding hordes. There's no room for complexity in a story that so virulently hates one side and that so desperately wants its audience to hate it, too. (Just in case you might be tempted to drift off into thinking that the Burmese are people, too, Jitnukul throws in some flashbacks showing the savage invaders raping and pillaging the Siamese.) I'm all for expressions of national pride, but when those expressions are so much more concerned with what it looks like when someone's head is sliced off than with what might be going on inside that head, it becomes, after a while, little more than a mind-numbing bloodbath. Contains scenes of wincingly violent carnage, a four-letter word or two and a bit of nudity. In Thai and Burmese with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
BROTHERS IN ARMS (Unrated, 68 minutes)
For a feature film, this clearly partisan documentary about the Swift boat crew that served under John Kerry in Vietnam is pretty slight, but for a campaign commercial -- which is what it feels like -- it's pretty long. More effective as the latter than the former, "Brothers in Arms" goes a long way toward dispelling some of the accusations by some veterans that have been plaguing Kerry of late. Although the Democratic presidential candidate himself appears as a talking head in Paul Alexander's film, the bulk of "Brothers" is devoted to hearing the sometimes emotional stories of Kerry's four surviving crew members, all of whose recollections more or less jibe with those that the Kerry camp have been replaying again and again in the media. But hearing the now graying and paunchy men -- David Alston, Mike Medeiros, Del Sandusky and Gene Thorson -- reminisce about derring-do while trying to avoid getting shot is less moving than hearing them talk about the troubles (such as alcoholism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide) that some of them encountered after returning to the United States. In fact, listening to Sandusky speak of how he called Kerry up one day when he was considering killing himself, and of how the senator immediately dispatched a staffer to check Sandusky into a VA hospital, is a lot more powerful than hearing the opposing camps argue about whether and under what circumstances Kerry plucked a fellow American soldier out of the river in Vietnam. Contains nothing offensive. At Visions Bar Noir.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
THE COOKOUT (PG-13, 85 minutes)
A basketball player who has just turned pro (Storm P) throws a barbecue for all of his old and new friends. Lions Gate Films did not screen this film for reviewers. Area theaters.
PAPARAZZI (PG-13, 85 minutes)
Film star Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) takes matters into his own hands when persistent celebrity photographers invade his personal life. Twentieth Century Fox did not screen this film for reviewers. Area theaters.